I am almost jealous of Pittsburgh Pirates fans. I remember 2006, when Detroit made it to the playoffs, that feeling of having your team back in the playoffs for the first time you can remember, and knowing that just being there is amazing.
On the other hand, I am not jealous of Pirates fans, because my team just made the playoffs for the third consecutive year, after virtually sealing up the race in mid-summer. And you know what, that’s much better.
The Tigers are playing the Oakland Athletics in the American League Division Series for the second year in a row. The first step in the Tigers’ bid for their second straight AL title and first World Series of this era might not be easy, but I think the Tigers have the chance to dominate.
Let’s break it down:
Starting with this category is not really fair. The Tigers rotation is simply the best in baseball. Max Scherzer went 21-3, the most wins in the majors, and is considered one of the main contenders for the AL Cy Young award. But Scherzer does not even lead the team in ERA, after Anibal Sanchez’s 2.57 bested Scherzer’s 2.90, as well as the rest of the American League. And I have not even mentioned the Tigers’ theoretical ace, Justin Verlander, who was seventh in the majors in strikeouts in what was generally considered a bad season for JV. Pulling up the rear is Doug Fister, who would be a number two starter on any other team.
Bartolo Colon of the A’s has the second best ERA in the AL, after Sanchez, at 2.65, but the gap between Colon and A.J. Griffin’s 3.83 contains the other three Tigers. Not a single Athletic pitched more than 171 strikeouts. Sanchez, Scherzer and Verlander all whiffed over 200.
Did I mention the Tigers starters threw the third-most strikeouts of all time?
This is the one area where the Tigers are decidedly one of the weaker teams in the playoffs. The Tigers bullpen was in disarray all season, though they finally found a competent closer in Joaquin Benoit. The Tigers are short-staffed, with injuries to Phil Coke and Bruce Rondon keeping them off the ALDS roster. The Tigers bullpen carries the most losses of any team in the playoffs, and generally carries a stigma of unreliability.
The Athletics, on the other hand, seem to have their bullpen together. Grant Balfour pitched 38 saves while only blowing 3. The Athletics bullpen only lost 18 games all year, good for second among AL playoff teams (and only two behind the Wild Card Indians). The bullpen’s .233 batting average against eclipses the Tigers’ .241, and ultimately proves that if the Tigers want to win baseball games, they’re going to have to get to the starters.
Jackson, Hunter, Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez, Peralta, Infante, Avila, Iglesias.
Oh, you wanted analysis? Did you see that list of names? The Tigers lineup is dangerous. Cabrera just won his third straight batting title, opening an insane .024 lead over the Twins’ Joe Mauer. Torii Hunter has elevated the lineup by getting on base right before Cabrera and Fielder bat. Peralta is back after his 50-game PED suspension, and ready to continue the work he started when he hit .304 before the suspension. Even Alex Avila has caught fire, hitting .303 since the All-Star break after starting .177. The Tigers also have a hot bat in Victor Martinez, who posted a league-best .361 over the second half of the season.
The Athletics lineup is good but not great. Josh Donaldson leads the team in batting at .310. There is not another player batting above .300, but Jed Lowry and Coco Crisp form the heart of an able lineup. In this series, I believe the Tigers lineup’s biggest enemy is themselves. If they cannot provide the rotation with run support, the Athletics will get to our relievers. But if the Tigers can score 4 runs a game, which has often been a challenge this season, especially with a Miguel Cabrera, who is hampered by injury, the Tigers have a legitimate shot at a sweep
Advantage: Still the Tigers
This is the Tigers’ series to lose. They have the starting pitching, they have the better lineup, and they have a competent bullpen capable of maintaining leads. If the Tigers can get to A’s starters, they win this series. Expect the rotation to dominate, but they cannot win a series without help.
Prediction: Tigers in 4.
Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.